A welcome letter to the next administration

Departments - Waste Watch

As a new administration readies to enter the White House, it is critical to remember the responsibility for day-to-day sustainability and resilience in solid waste management still falls on our local solid waste professionals. We are leaders in environmental conservation, ready to showcase and replicate our best practices for the benefits of communities nationwide, and we urge the federal government to join our nation’s state, county, city, town and regional champions to inspire this country’s fight against climate change and promote equitable communities and a resilient economy.

According to the Trust for Public Land Action Fund, state and local voters across the country approved 26 separate environmental measures on 2020 election ballots, totaling nearly $3.7 billion in new funding for land conservation, parks and open space; climate resiliency; habitat preservation; water quality; and affordable housing and equitability. This is an amazing commitment on the part of state and local communities, and now, with the new presidential administration set to take office in January, the time is ripe to renew these efforts at the federal level. The results of the 2020 election present an opportunity for us to refocus on pressing sustainability and resilience issues, many of which have been exacerbated and highlighted by the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic.

There are few other issues as inherent and integral to our daily lives as how we manage our waste. The new administration has pledged to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord this coming inauguration day and commit $1.7 trillion to achieve a 100 percent clean energy economy with net zero emissions by 2050. This effort is anticipated to create 10 million new jobs across the country, with a particular focus on environmental justice for historically marginalized and underrepresented populations and communities of color.

To fulfill these promises, we urge the new administration to act swiftly and with purpose. Policies must be actionable and enforceable. They must boost the established and emerging domestic markets for recyclable materials by both ensuring a high-quality supply and increasing demand through prioritizing recyclable materials’ use in manufacturing. Policies should also help build regional demand for organic waste diversion by incentivizing compost and soil amendment usage.

We are hearing good things from the president-elect’s climate change committee. The new administration seeks to revitalize and re-engage federal personnel on sustainability initiatives; fill in the gaps in institutional memory and expertise; and re-engage our nation within the international community, particularly with the Paris Climate Accord. And yet, challenges remain. In the past few years, the U.S. has retreated from participating in international environmental initiatives, and we must reassert our global leadership. At home, we face governmental and social obstacles, including ongoing and widespread support of, and dependence on, fossil fuels as well as challenges to implementing climate change mitigation policies.

As landfills across the country begin to reach capacity and recycling markets remain turbulent, it’s clear that we cannot continue business as usual and still achieve our goals of sustainability, resilience and climate change mitigation. The U.S. EPA released its Draft National Recycling Strategy in early October, and while this strategy documents the EPA’s goals on the advancement of recycling, we must critically examine how we can go further, faster, by incorporating strategies that will truly create a paradigm shift in how we think about waste as valuable material that should not, in fact, be wasted.

As a company, GBB offered our comments to the draft strategy, echoing our call to catalyze a circular economy and suggest the inclusion of policies and incentives to prevent waste while adding real value for reuse and recovery. We want to see the strategy have an emphasis on designing to eliminate waste and facilitate reuse and recovery, extended producer responsibility, building up the sharing economy, heavy investment in infrastructure for material recovery, incentivizing diversion through financial benefits, and accounting for the negative externalities of environmental degradation associated with waste.

These ideas are ambitious and the challenges significant, but the solid waste industry, with the leadership of the new administration, must do what is necessary to stem the ever-increasing tide of solid waste to positively contribute to a sustainable and resilient future.